As Port Aransas’s tourism industry, which brings about $400 million into the economy, prepares for its first summer season after Harvey, we talked to some of the business owners about their recovery process. They are as ready as they can be.
Port Royal Reopening
The Port Royal Ocean Resort, the expansive hotel between Corpus Christi and Port Aransas, has been a fixture in South Texas for more than thirty years. With its giant waterslides and in-pool cabana bars, the three-story resort with 210 condominiums has long attracted multigenerational families for its proximity to the beach and happening pool scene. The resort experienced so much damage from Harvey that it was shuttered.
With no place for the 150 employees to work, general manager Kendra Kinnon and her team set up a volunteer center, where employees (who have remained on the payroll since Harvey) would check in and get bused to sites all around the area that were in need of help. When the debris-cleanup efforts came to a stopping point, workers continued to volunteer for other organizations in South Texas, like local food banks and Habitat for Humanity. The hotel has documented its recovery efforts in a video series it calls “Port Royal Strong.”
The resort celebrates its grand reopening on June 1. Kinnon says: “It’s been harder than I ever imagined to get going again, but our team just embraced giving back to the community in a way we never thought possible.”
Cinnamon Shore Expands
Sea Oats Group, which owns Cinnamon Shore, a high-end home development on more than a thousand acres, is doubling down on Port Aransas with a $1.3 billion investment in new vacation homes on a three-hundred-acre expansion. Cinnamon Shore’s colorful, multi-level Craftsman-style homes and condos, with shiplap walls and upscale beachy interiors, offer concierge services, such as valet chairs and umbrellas on a private beach and sandcastle-building. In addition, Sea Oats and the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce partnered after Harvey to start the New Day Port A Fund, which has so far raised $892,000 to support the community’s recovery.
Port A, in Their Own Words
Tiana Worsham, the chef-owner of the Phoenix, a fine-dining restaurant that was destroyed by Harvey but has since reopened at a new location: “After I saw the devastation, my first instinct was to take the money and run and go find a new place that wasn’t damaged, but we are all in on Port Aransas and this special community. Plus, when your name is the Phoenix, you better rise up from something.”
Billy Joe Wilson, who lost his Eats cafe after Harvey, now owns Billy Joe’s Craft House: “I don’t know how to swing a hammer, but I do know how to cook, so for thirty days I fed volunteers and people who lost their homes, doing one thousand plates [a day] for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. People from all over the state sent money and food. It was a life-changing experience, and it made me a better man.”
Tiara Followell, the owner of two popular Port A boutiques, Roam and Roam Home: “After the storm, I realized that local women had lost everything. I didn’t want them going through the humiliation of digging through boxes of donations to find something that fit. I decided to have a free boutique, and we received donations from all over the country. It was open for ten days. Volunteers came because they were married here or their grandmother had a home that was their favorite place in the summer. People have strong ties to this island.”
Beth Owens, Port Aransas city councilwoman and owner of Deep Sea Headquarters, Red Dragon Pirate Cruises, Fins Grill and Ice House, and other businesses: “I came down here on spring break in 1987. I met a cute boat captain, moved to Port Aransas after graduation, and now we have three children, six businesses, and have been married for 29 years. There have been so many hurricane scares here over the years that I became complacent, which I will never do again. I don’t want people to wait for things to be perfect to come back to Port Aransas. We need people to come and support us right now.”